How the Timberwolves Stack Up Against Each Team in the Western Conference

David Sherman/Getty Images

David Sherman/Getty Images

After a great start so far to the 2013-14 NBA season, the Wolves are beginning to look like a serious playoff contender. A lot of excitement and buzz has been generated in Minnesota behind a 7-4 start and their prolific offense. Below I put together some thoughts about how this Pups team matches up with each of their Western Conference opponents. Enjoy!

Dallas Mavericks

Advantages: Dallas is ranked third to last in points allowed per game. This will be big for the Wolves who are ranked 3rd in the league in scoring. We are going to have to take advantage of their bad defense.

Disadvantages: Monta Ellis has been playing really well this year averaging 23.3 points a game alongside a healthy Dirk Nowitzki. This team is going to be tough to beat every night regardless of their defensive deficiencies. It is crucial that we play tough defense and force Monta to take contested shots.

Denver Nuggets

Advantages: Denver does not have an extremely dynamic offense, and the loss of JaVale McGee certainly hurts their ability to clear room on the perimeter for their shooters. Minnesota runs a much faster paced game this season, and in the result of a shootout against Denver the Wolves would definitely be favored. Denver currently ranks 20th in the NBA in field goal percentage.

Disadvantages: The Nuggets are a very good defensive and rebounding team. The Wolves are going to have to be able to score efficiently and not rely on second chance baskets with Kenneth Faried pulling down rebounds. Denver is extremely good at crashing the boards and getting rebounds, as they currently rank second in the NBA in that category. And while Minnesota is not far behind in rebounding, they will need to get down to business and not let up unnecessary second chance points on the opposite end.

Golden State Warriors

Advantages: Golden State has committed 185 turnovers as a team which puts them at 25th in the NBA. Although they like to get out and run, it will be our job to make them pay when they turn it over. As we saw in the first contest between the two teams, points off turnovers will be a key stat to keep an eye on.

Disadvantages: Golden State is extremely versatile and can score efficiently in nearly every way. Stephen Curry is a legitimate superstar and can take over a game on any single night because of his remarkable ability to drain threes and dish out assists. And while Ricky Rubio has the ability to cause trouble for Curry on the defensive end, keeping up with Curry can prove to be an impossible task at times. Thanks in part to Curry and the addition of Andre Igoudala, the Warriors rank seventh in the NBA in assists and do a very nice job keeping everyone involved on the floor. Their ability to maintain an even scoring attack on a consistent basis makes Golden State a legitimate title contender this season.

Houston Rockets

Advantages: Ricky Rubio will be our X-factor in the matchups with the Rockets. He has the clear advantage over the defensively incapable Jeremy Lin and the much smaller Patrick Beverley. Lin is extremely turnover prone while Rubio currently leads the NBA in steals per game, creating for a nightmare mismatch in Minnesota’s favor.

Disadvantages: Although we are a great rebounding team, there is always the question of how to stop Dwight Howard defensively. Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic are marginal defenders and Dwight Howard is one of the best low post scorers in the NBA. On the perimeter, James Harden has established himself as arguably the best shooting guard in the game since being shipped over from OKC. Although Brewer is a nice defender and Derek Williams has shown promise on that end of the floor, containing James Harden is no simple task especially now with D12 stretching the floor for him.

Los Angeles Clippers

Advantages: We have the offensive fire power to keep up with the Clippers, as the Wolves are ranked third in scoring this year. In addition, the Clippers are ranked dead last in total defense this year which should translate into more open shots to get the offense going. The Clippers are also ranked 25th in rebounding which should lead to more second chance buckets and hopefully more trips to the free throw line.

Disadvantages: The Clippers offense is extremely potent and they boast a very deep bench. The team can score at will and is ranked first in scoring averaging 110 points per game. Also, is there anyone in the NBA that can contain Chris Paul? The best point guard in the league has been a complete beast and is perpetually causing match-up problems for every opponent he has faced. Furthermore, the Clippers are able to reload with their second unit of which consists of Jamal Crawford and JJ Reddick.

Los Angeles Lakers

Advantages: No Kobe Bryant. The time is now to widen the gap and to make it more difficult for the Lakers to sneak into the playoffs. The Lakers are banged up and if we can get to Christmas with a sizeable gap between the Lakers, we should have no problem edging them out. Kevin Love will go face the old and injured Pau Gasol and should come out on top in that matchup. Expect a big day out of Love vs. his potential future employer.

Disadvantages: Kobe coming back could cause problems for us as he has terrorized the Minnesota franchise since the beginning of his career. The Lakers do show decent chemistry even without Kobe and they should not be overlooked because of their experience and mental toughness on D.

Memphis Grizzlies

Advantages: There are not a whole ton of matchup advantages for Minnesota as this Memphis squad has continually caused problems for the Wolves in years past. However, with Kevin Martin aboard the Wolves have added a new dimension to their offense which could be the key to wearing out the tough Memphis defense. Memphis does not have the deepest bench so it is crucial for the Wolves’ second unit to win their matchups against Grizzlies’ backups.

Disadvantages: Memphis is a very good defensive team it will be very difficult to score against them. Furthermore, I think Marc Gasol is arguably the best center in the league right now. If he causes Love to get into foul trouble it could be a long night for the Wolves. Plus Zach Randolph plays with a lot of heart which could cause problems for us.

New Orleans Pelicans

Advantages: The Pelicans do not like to take outside shots. They are ranked last in 3-point attempts making them a live and die in the paint type of ball club. If we force them to take outside shots we should not have a problem containing them.

Disadvantages: New Orleans has very good shot blocking which could cause problems for Kevin Love and Big Pek. Anthony Davis is a very good defender and has the potential to keep Love in check. Also, Jrue Holliday is a very good scorer who is also known as one of the best faced-up defenders in the NBA, which would cause Rubio troubles gaining penetration.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Advantages: If we can find a way to contain Durant, Minnesota should do well this season against the Thunder. We had a very impressive victory earlier this season and if we maintain good defense and are efficient in our rotations, it should lead to more contested shots for OKC which could spell problems for them. The Thunder have not rebounded the ball well this season and the rebounding battle should be a big advantage for us looking forward.

Disadvantages: Russell Westbrook is now back from injury and is looking great. This will force us to play them differently than the first time around, as Durant and Westbrook combine to form one of the most lethal scoring combos in the league. Durant is second to only LeBron James in my mind and containing him is always a next to impossible task.

Phoenix Suns

Advantages:  Phoenix lacks the star power to keep up with the Wolves scoring while missing an experienced go-to scorer on their roster. Even though Phoenix has been playing well, they have had some troubles with turning the ball over. I feel it is a matter of time before the true tanking begins and the sweepstakes for Andrew Wiggins are in full effect. With Gortat gone, the Suns prospects for slowing down K-Love are increasingly more unlikely. Expect one or more 30-10 games from Love in our matchups this season.

Disadvantages: I would be stunned if we lost a game to Phoenix given the several positional mismatches that will be available to exploit.

Portland Trailblazers

Advantages: Portland has given up a lot of points this season and should have a difficult time slowing Minnesota’s potent scoring attack. While Portland possesses a strong starting 5, they lack an effective second unit of which has been lousy for the past several seasons. If we can keep the starting five in check and force LaMarcus Aldridge to take contested mid-range jumpers, Damian Lillard may not be enough to outscore the Wolves. Portland’s defense has also been a weakness this season, and they are in the bottom half of the league giving up 102 points per game.

Disadvantages: The starting 5 of the Blazers is very talented. Lillard and Aldridge have come together to form one of the top PG-PF pairings in the NBA. The key to beating the Blazers is by slowing down the starting 5 just enough while shutting down the bench. Portland does a good job of taking care of the basketball as they rank second in the NBA in fewest turnovers. It is crucial the Wolves create turnovers and force contested shots if they want a shot to take down the Blazers. I strongly feel that the Blazers will be one of the teams we are battling for that 7 or 8 seed for the Playoffs.

Sacramento Kings

Advantages: Sacramento has problems scoring the ball this year being ranked 25th in the NBA in that category. Furthermore, DeMarcus Cousins, although supremely talented, still has not formed strong chemistry with his teammates as he continues to act like a immature teenager on the court. Kevin Martin should exploit his matchups against Marcus Thornton who is a very lax defender. Expect a big game from Martin and our big men with very little frontcourt defense to stop Love and Pek.

Disadvantages: DeMarcus Cousins is a monster on the offensive end and as a rebounder. With that being said, that is about the only bright spot for the lowly Kings. They are ranked at the bottom of the NBA in rebounding and once again lack a core that can carry the team during important moments of games. On the bright side, the team finally has new ownership and should be a few strong drafts away from being a playoff contender.

San Antonio Spurs

Advantages: Youth, our team is very young and has a pretty up-tempo offense. This could cause problems for the Spurs who like to keep everything in their half court offense while avoiding transition play.

Disadvantages: Experience. The Spurs have several savvy, future Hall of Fame veterans and they know how to control games in crunch time. In addition, their bench is very deep as they boast both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard in their second unit and they will likely be contenders again this postseason.

Utah Jazz

Advantages: The Jazz are a very inexperienced team after losing both Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson to free agency. They also currently have a huge hole at point guard right now with Trey Burke being sidelined with injury. Rubio will have a pretty big mismatch in driving to the lane and dishing out assists even with Burke on the floor. Utah is ranked 26th in the NBA in scoring so don’t expect them to score a lot of points on us.

Disadvantages: Utah likes to attack the rim and score points by slashing and creating opportunities at the charity stripe. It is critical we keep Utah contained and force them to take outside jump shots.

Analyzing How The Timberwolves Stack Up In The Western Conference

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Is a core of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic strong enough to carry Minnesota to the playoffs? (Brace Hemmelgarn, Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

So far this offseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves have made a splash in both the draft and free agency. The Wolves started things off by drafting first-round picks Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, both of whom could provide solid minutes off the bench this next season while being potential  future starters. Shabazz has a high ceiling due to his play-making abilities on offense and Dieng has the body to become an elite defender in the NBA.

In free agency, the Timberwolves were able to sign UFA Kevin Martin to a four year, $28 million deal to fill the void as the new starter at shooting guard. The former sixth man from OKC brings perimeter shooting that the Wolves desperately need as he shot a tremendous 43% from behind the arc last season. In addition, the Wolves were able to bring back RFA Chase Budinger who also brings strong perimeter shooting and an extensive knowledge of Rick Adelman’s corner offense. In addition, former Timberwolves lottery pick Corey Brewer is also back to help replace some of Andrei Kirilenko‘s defensive versatility after playing an integral part to Denver’s terrific season in 2012-13. It is safe to say that Flip Saunders has assembled a very talented offensive roster that could very well make a playoff push come next spring.

Remaining on the agenda is the status of RFA Nikola Pekovic, who has still not found common ground with Timberwolves brass on a long-term deal that could keep the Montenegrin in Minnesota for another four seasons. Despite the current lack of a deal, it remains unlikely that Pekovic decides to leave millions on the table and instead signing his one year tender that would pay him around $6 million this season while allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. It remains very unlikely that Pek signs his one year tender as he would be taking a significant risk walking away from a $50+ million contract, especially considering his injury history. It will be very important for Flip to find common ground with Pek’s camp in order to find a mutually beneficial resolution to the extended negotiations, given how important of a piece he will be for Minnesota this season and in the future.

Is it be possible that this may be an inopportune time for the Wolves to significantly improve? As ridiculous as that may sound, let us take a peek at next season. With the hard cap created in the latest CBA, there are significant ramifications that result from the luxury tax largely as it applies to small market franchises. As it stands right now, the Timberwolves will have very little flexibility going forward for adding any more high-impact players. If their free agent additions fail to produce or if injuries continue to plague the team as they have in previous seasons, the Pups may miss out on both a playoff spot and a high spot in the draft. That would not bode well for the future of the team as the 2014 NBA Draft is considered by many experts to be the best draft in the past decade. The draft boasts high-end talent that includes Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Chris Walker, Aaron Gordan, Gary Harris, and the Harrison twins. There is a chance that multiple teams may draft their next superstar with a high selection, but having a pick in the 10-14 range would mean missing out on both a postseason run and a top end talent. With all of the talent and depth the Wolves have accumulated, it is very likely that Minnesota will miss out on players that could fundamentally change the franchise. As Minnesota is in clear win-now mode, it is somewhat unfortunate that the first time in a decade that the team does not appear in the NBA lottery may very well end up being the most important lottery to be apart of.

It is interesting to note that the last time the Timberwolves made a significant run in the playoffs in 2003, it ended up being arguably the greatest draft class in NBA history. Just look at some of these names: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and David West were some of the players selected before Minnesota who held the 26th overall pick. They ultimately selected Ndudi Ebi, who proved to be a completely useless asset for the franchise. While it is not guaranteed that 2014 will bring as many studs as 2003 did, it is initially alarming to think about history repeating itself.

The Western Conference currently boasts a highly competitive group of teams that will make it increasingly difficult to make it to the postseason. At the top there are the unquestionable contenders, including the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. The Thunder have arguably two of the top five best players in the NBA with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.  The Spurs are coming off of an NBA Finals defeat in which they played the Miami Heat incredibly close despite ultimately coming up short. However, they will be returning all of their core players and should be a force yet again next season. The Grizzlies have only added pieces around their core and remain one of the most defensively oriented teams in the NBA, a strength that makes them one of the most unique teams in the league. Coming off of their memorable playoff run, Golden State was able to add a new starting small forward in All-Star Andre Igoudala to complement their sharp-shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. The Clippers took care of their offseason priorities by re-signing Chris Paul while also addressing their needs at shooting guard by signing sharpshooter JJ Redick away from Milwaukee. Los Angeles also gained depth at small forward after trading for swingman Jared Dudley. Houston made arguably the biggest addition of the summer after signing Dwight Howard and have now positioned themselves as a championship contender with the addition of the best center in the NBA. Pairing Dwight with Chandler Parsons and James Harden will be interesting to observe to say the least.

Fighting for the final spots in the West with the Wolves will likely be between the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans and the Denver Nuggets. The Portland’s young lineup is set to make a playoff run this season as they are bringing back their entire starting five. Dallas and New Orleans have both completely revamped their rosters and should be the biggest wildcards of the Western Conference, while Denver has undergone a complete turnover of their management and coaching staff while losing a number of key players. Obviously, as shown by the Los Angeles Lakers last season it is nearly impossible to predict the playoff standings. It is no guarantee that even with their improved roster and a full season of good health from both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, there is enough competition and talent in the West to keep Minnesota from snapping their streak of missing the postseason.

In the end, I am happy that the Wolves are going to be a competitive ball club next season. It’s about DAMN time! But there is always a price to being competitive that could negatively impact our future, just as it did in 2003.

How much is Nikola Pekovic worth to the Timberwolves?

The Timberwolves' Nikola Pekovic will be in high demand as a restricted free agent this summer (Getty Images)

The Timberwolves’ Nikola Pekovic will be in high demand as a restricted free agent this summer (Getty Images)

Homegrown Talent

Montenegrin star Nikola Pekovic has been a dominate force in the paint for the Minnesota Timberwolves the past two years. This past season he recorded career high game averages in points, 16.1, rebounds, 8.8, and minutes, 31.6, establishing himself as one of the most productive offensive centers in the NBA. Pek’s 20.26 Player Efficiency Rating put him sixth in the NBA last season among all starting centers.

Despite the strong play from Pekovic the past few seasons, his future with the Wolves remains blurry as he enters restricted free agency as one of the premier big men on the market. The confounding question that has been hovering over the Timberwolves organization and its fans all season long has regarded how much money it will take to retain Pekovic in the agressive restricted free agent market?

This past season big Pek earned $4,837,200 in the final year of a three-year, $13 million contract which initially lured the big man from Greek club Panathinikos to come play for the struggling Wolves. The former 2008 second-round pick is due for a substantial pay raise, as he is expected to receive competing offer sheets from opposing organizations that may average $10+ million per season, regardless of his recent struggles staying on the court. [Read more…]

Offseason Ideas: Timberwolves Needs + Monta Ellis in the Picture?

Could Monta Ellis provide the scoring the Timberwolves need to compete in the Western Conference?

Could Monta Ellis provide the scoring the Timberwolves need to compete in the Western Conference?

This season has been the definition of disappointing to say the least. The additions of Andrei Kirilenko, Alexey Shved, Brandon Roy, and Chase Budinger caused a stir of excitement and optimism among Timberwolves fans to begin this 2012-13 season, and many basketball fans around the league even believed that this squad not only had the chance to achieve a postseason berth, but that the team also had the depth and talent to make a run in this years playoffs. However, all of that came to a violent halt when we obtained the bubonic plague as we call them… (Injuries). It was not comprehendible during our summer of optimism that nearly every player on the Wolves would ultimately fall to injury at some point during the season. The dream lineup of Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Roy, Nikola Pekovic, and AK never had the opportunity to log big minutes together and create the necessary chemistry to legitimately compete for a bottom seed in the Western Conference. Oh, and our head coach, Rick Adelman, was gone for an extended period of time with family reasons. This season has been a catastrophe in the minds of Timberwolves fans alike.

As this season carries only future implications towards draft position and free agency, this team has A LOT of issues to address. To begin, Minnesota statistically has the worst three-point shooting in the NBA and the Wolves do not have a player that can help to alleviate some of the offensive pressure off of K-Love. In addition, we are still missing that shooting guard in our lineup that we all hoped Roy could be. Glen Taylor and David Kahn will need to dig deep into team funds and allocate money towards a marquee scorer who can create his own shot and knock down shots on the perimeter. Kevin Love, as we all know, is not happy about the current state of affairs within the organization. Adding to the frustrations, our once-smiley Rubio is having a very difficult time with all of the losing and the great pressure being exerted upon him to do virtually everything for the offense to work.

Considering all of these factors, I have considered three soon-to-be unrestricted free that would be excellent fits for the Wolves. The players I chose are Monta Ellis, JJ Redick, and Paul Millsap. Any one of these players would provide an instant upgrade in multiple facets of the game for Minnesota and would allow our team to elevate to a higher level of competitiveness in the Western Conference. In order to get over the hump and be able to match up against teams like the Thunder, Spurs, and Clippers, we need legitimate scorers to fill the holes in our roster. It is unreasonable to expect that Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will be able to carry us to the postseason in a very competitive Western Conference all by themselves.

The future 2013 free agent of whom I believe would provide the largest upgrade to our team is Monta Ellis. Before you roll your eyes, consider the fact that the Timberwolves currently possess one player that can create his own offense and that the team has a very difficult job doing the most important thing in the game: scoring the basketball. Although Monta may demand an inflated contract and may likely get overpaid this summer, he would provide tremendous value to our team in a variety of ways of which we currently struggle. The guy can flat out score the basketball, and that will never be a topic of debate. The addition of Ellis would help take pressure off Love in the 4th quarter and would keep opposing teams honest. Also when considering his ability to play off-ball, pairing Monta with a play-maker like Rubio could create for a very exciting backcourt.

While it can be easy to blame Minnesota’s inefficiencies on injuries and a lack of talent, there is no excuse for their fading defensive intensity and critical turnovers late in games. Both aspects have greatly hurt the team this season as they rank 24th in turnovers per game and 25th in opponents field goal percentage. The Wolves need to take care of the ball and be quicker on rotating on defense instead of allowing so many open looks by opposing perimeter players. These are basic fundamentals that Rick Adelman has undoubtedly preached this season, and the players need to put his words into a tangible product night-in and night-out.

Another important area for improvement is the team’s transition defense. If you go to the stat line of the Heat vs. Wolves games this season, we have had an enormous edge in the rebounding battle. However, the Heat destroyed us in fast break points and transition offense which led to us losing late in each game. The importance of success in transition cannot be stressed enough as it continues to separate legitimate NBA playoff teams from the lottery losers.

To reiterate, if we want to be a championship contender we have to have the firepower to be able to beat teams like the Heat and Thunder (elite teams). We won’t be able to accomplish any of this without an increase in talent and greater accountability from the players, the coaching staff and the front office. To be brutally honest, Minnesota right now is a LONG ways away from being a true contender in the NBA, although they possess the proper foundation to build a very good team in future years. Just like we saw with Rick Spielman’s genius drafting for the Vikings just one short year ago, a few good moves can fundamentally change the dynamic of a ballclub.